Monday, February 25, 2013


HILL COUNTRY PRELUDE   12x16    oil on linen panel
As some of you may guess, this is not a literal transcription of the colors of this scene.  I did a three value sketch of the scene using black, mid-gray, and white. In the studio, after I was satisfied with the shapes and arrangement of things, I pre-mixed a palette of colors that felt right to me to express the freshness of this morning. I blocked-in the colors of the big shapes by choosing an average hue, value and intensity for each major shape.  Once that was done, it was a matter of playing with the color variations and working with the edges.

One of the nice things about this approach is that it gives you added control over things, and allows you to place more focus on matters that may have escaped your attention while dealing with resolving values and color by transcription and adjustment.  I also relish the game of inventing with the colors I've chosen.  Try it some time, and let me know what you think.


  1. Jimmy,
    Nice painting and a good idea. I will try it sometime.
    I read about edges and their handling in your blog and wonder if you might be able to demonstrate how you like to soften edges. I seem to have no problem making them hard, so no tutorial needed there!
    Also, I saw that you are now VP at Plein Air Austin. Right on! I would like to join you guys on a paint out, but don't see an April schedule up on the website.

  2. I will definitely give consideration to doing some kind of demo on edges, but for the time being let me just talk about what has helped me. Coming from my illustration background, my paintings often suffered from hardening of the edges. Illustration is often far more descriptive than what I find compelling about painting.

    Even if you draw well, understand perspective, values and color, edges have the power to ruin an otherwise solid picture. The problem is, just as you mentioned, we don't need help making them hard. They seem to propagate themselves, but we usually only need one or two hard edges in a painting! Usually they're most useful at the focal area of the composition. Hard edges draw the eye, and should be used with that purpose in mind. Most edges in a painting are better off when left Soft, Broken, Interrupted or Lost. Then, they help to unify the painting, and provide a more poetic feeling.

    So, why do hard edges so easily proliferate? Probably, the main cause is the lack of decision concerning what our painting is really about. We tend to render one thing after another as we look from one item to the next as if each was of equal importance. In normal vision, our eye focuses clearly on one thing, and everything else is more or less blurry. Try this yourself to see what I mean. Fix your eye on one thing, and then try to discern detail or hard edges in the surrounding area. You just cant do it without moving your gaze.

    So, your request was to demonstrate how I like to soften edges. I'd like to turn that around to consider how to make edges harder! This requires a mindset that begins with soft edges in arranging the shapes on our canvas. In other words begin by working on making interesting shapes, spatial divisions and right value relationships. These do the foundational work of creating a successful painting. Allow the edges to remain very soft. In fact become aware of refusing hard edges until you know why you want one. Defining edges is like adding salt to a dish. Salt alone won't make a tasty dish, but if the ingredients are right, just a bit of salt can make it even more flavorful.

    All that being said, the problem remains, when hard edges creep in what can be done to soften them? You can brush 'em, smear 'em, hatch 'em, boldly or carefully. There are any number of 'techniques' you can use, but first have a sense of what is needed in your painting. Is an edge drawing your eye away from your focus? Does the painting have a feeling of being flat, brittle or fragmented? Diagnose before prescribing the remedy.

    Remember, most edges are better off Soft, Broken, Interrupted or Lost. However, I don't mean to suggest that you just go through your painting indiscriminately softening edges. That's a recipe for a mushy painting. It isn't really just a case of softening edges for its own sake, but treating edges according to what you're trying to accomplish. When you know what you're after, you'll begin to invent suitable ways to soften, break, interrupt and lose edges.

    Finally, in the interest of beginning with softened edges, try brushing in your lay-in more freely. Intentionally stay away from defining edges at the outset. After you've covered the canvas with shapes, values and spaces that support your focus, try placing one hard edge at your focal area. Contrast of any kind is what attracts the eye. Light/dark, warm/cool, busy/calm, rough/smooth…or hard/soft. When we're learning to paint we think we need to wrestle with everything we see. The more we paint, the more selective we become about what needs to be included to express what our painting is about. Edges are just one tool for enhancing that expression.

  3. Thanks for a very complete response and your insight!